Catholic groups warn against cutting aid during East African drought

.- Representatives from Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. bishops' conference have warned against making drastic cuts in the area of foreign aid, which could affect East Africans already suffering from a severe drought.

“These fiscal decisions, which seem removed, can play out as they affect the poorest people from around the world,” said Ryan Williams, a representative of Catholic Relief Services, in a July 26 webcast.

Sean Callahan, Catholic Relief Services' executive vice president of overseas operations, said the humanitarian emergency in East Africa should be a “wake up call to many that these programs should not be cut.”

Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. bishops have warned the House and Senate for months about the international consequences of a proposed 26 percent cut in poverty-focused foreign aid.

Steve Colecchi, director of the USCCB's Office of International Justice and Peace, said the House and Senate are considering a 29 percent cut in emergency refugee assistance funding.

But Williams stated that the U.S. government representatives already working in the drought-affected areas “do not have the resources to respond at the level they need to.”

Callahan recently visited a group of refugee camps in Kenya, near the Somali border, to interview refugees and assess their needs. He said that most of the refugees have traveled between 17 and 60 days from Somalia, the country most seriously affected by the drought.

He reported that most of the refugees saw no reason to return to Somalia, where an unstable government and rising violence have added to the problems caused by the lack of rain.

The huge influx of Somali refugees has placed a huge strain on Kenyan refugee camps that were built with the capacity for 90,000 people. Right now, Callahan said, they are attempting to shelter between 300,000 to 500,000 people.

The refugee influx has placed increased pressure on the Kenyan government, which Callahan says is “hoping the international community will get involved.”

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